Success Story – LikeMeat
LikeMeat – The evolution of a plant-based alternative to meat
Due to health, environmental and animal welfare concerns, a growing number of Europeans are reducing their meat consumption and shifting from an animal protein to a plant-based diet. The LikeMeat project has developed a product whose advanced texture and enhanced taste serve as a superior alternative to the meat substitutes currently on the market.
‘LikeMeat is a premium meat alternative, much closer to real meat than existing products because its structure is very similar to muscle meat fibres,’ argues Dr Florian Wild, coordinator of the two-year project and leading researcher for the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging – one of the three participating research institutes. ‘This gives LikeMeat products an attractive appearance and a juicy, elastic mouth-feel; since LikeMeat has similar properties to meat, it is easy for consumers to prepare.’
The overall goal of LikeMeat was to develop an alternative to meat substitutes that is tasty, nutritious, visually appealing and very similar in structure to that of real meat. The project also aimed to identify and to fulfil consumer needs and preferences for meat substitutes in the growing market sector, and to ensure food safety.
The environmentally sustainable, plant-based meat substitute contains variations of wheat, peas, soy and legumes. The plant proteins are mixed with water, kneaded, boiled and then slowly cooled down to create a meaty texture. A number of recipes have been developed to accommodate food allergies and intolerances.
Mr Wild admits that he was kicking the idea around for a while: ‘I worked for years with plant proteins and also with extrusion (food processing) technology for various food applications.’ Transferring plant proteins into meat-like structures first surfaced in scientific reports during the 70s and 80s. The technology and processes put forward back then were not used in industry until now.‘
‘At the preparatory stage, meat consumption and by extension meat substitutes were not part of the overall discussion, so interest in developing a niche product was moderate,’ says Mr Wild. ‘SMEs were somewhat reluctant to take part in European projects for various reasons, so we networked to bring together research institutes and chambers of commerce, as well as contacted enterprises that suited the profile of the consortium.’
Mr Wild underscores the importance of EU funding; development would not have begun had it not been for the allotted budget. ’When we applied for funding, general interest in exploring the processing technology was rather low in the industry and the participating SMEs did not have the financial means to carry out development in this manner on their own.’
For spearheading LikeMeat, Fraunhofer was awarded on 8 April the FERCHAU Innovation Prize 2013, which acknowledges the groundbreaking development work of German engineers and scientists. Mr Wild emphasises the seamless collaboration between the SME and RTD partners. ‘One of the main strengths of the project was the interdisciplinary approach. The interplay between consumers, scientists, microbiologists, economists and marketing experts was very fruitful.’
Mr Wild believes the final product’s innovative meat-like structure will help establish it in the EU market. ‘The project gained a very broad knowledge platform, and this enables us to adapt LikeMeat to various marketing and consumer concepts. For instance, we can provide recipes that are vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free and target the products to the specific groups.’
The production of meat requires a lot of land, water and energy. What is more, a high equivalent of greenhouse gases is released, especially when producing beef. In fact, the meat industry accounts for about 18 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. LikeMeat contributes to a nutritious and healthy diet, as it is high in protein and a source of dietary fibres. The meat substitutes do not use any raw materials or additives derived from genetically modified organisms. More importantly, meat substitutes may be an important step in more sustainably feeding the world’s growing population and demand for meat.
Meat prices vary considerably. Mr Wild explains that to keep costs down, production must be highly automated and be able to supply volume. LikeMeat delivers on both. A device the size of two ping-pong tables produces up to 80 kg an hour of meat that is one centimetre thick.
Mr Wild discusses the commercial potential and real market opportunities. ‘There are several routes we can take to market the product, such as B2B markets. A five per cent share for meat substitutes should be achievable within the next few years. And further growth for this segment seems likely.’
Mr Wild is thinking up ways to involve SMEs in the supply chain or future production of the LikeMeat product. ‘Within LikeMeat, we are currently intensively discussing which route to follow from prototype to market. Possibilities are production by a single SME or a group of partners, but also by licensing to third parties.’
Consumers are likely to see the LikeMeat product on shelves in mid 2014, according to Mr Wild. The market is currently ripe, he says: ‘The overall climate is very promising. Meat consumption is becoming a hot topic, and meat alternative products are being transformed from a niche market to a conventional food product.’
Participants: Germany (coordinator), Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, the Netherlands